While the pandemic has curtailed international travel, Singaporeans remain spoiled for choice in the variety of restaurants serving a vast array of global cuisines. And, while necessary measures to safeguard public health have meant a more challenging environment for those in the food and beverage industry, technological platforms continue to help restauranteurs and hawkers into the new normal.
SMEhorizon speaks with Reuben Chua, COO of YUN NANS, on bringing the restaurant from Beijing to Singapore, and how working with Oddle’s platforms and solutions has helped his business withstand the trials of the pandemic. Jonathan Lim, Co-Founder and CEO of Oddle also shares on the trends in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry since the pandemic, and discusses the future trends for this sector.
Entering the Singaporean market
In many ways, YUN NANS entry into Singapore reflects the movement of people, ideas, and tastes that was taken for granted before the pandemic. Founded as Yun Hai Yao in Beijing, 2009, the restaurant had grown to be the biggest casual Yunnan restaurant chain in China when Chua moved to Shanghai.
“I moved to Shanghai to pursue a new work opportunity in 2015, and was very impressed with the choices and diversity offered by the F&B landscape in China,” he recounts. “During my time there, I often had to entertain clients or my Singaporean friends and Yun Hai Yao was one of my favourite restaurants to host at. It was the biggest casual Yunnan restaurant chain in China, and I fell in love with Yunnan cuisine, as it is delicious, yet super nutritious.
“I went there so often that I eventually became friends with the founder.”
Feeling that Yunnan cuisine, with its Southeast Asian flavours would appeal to the Singaporean palate, Chua decided to act on his dream of opening his own restaurant back home.
Initially, recalls Chua, business was good before the pandemic, with queues at all their outlets. “Back then, we were already providing delivery services, but the bulk of our sales still came from dine-in customers.”
Serving customers through the circuit breaker
YUN NANS began to partner with Oddle in April 2020, the month when the country enforced its first “Circuit Breaker” (CB): a set of tight measures aimed at curtailing the spread of COVID-19. According to Lim these measures caught most merchants off-guard, resulting in a large number of them seeking to pivot online as soon as possible in order to survive the pandemic.
The shift to online delivery platforms has continued apace, even with periods of eased restrictions. “We managed to still continue onboard 400 merchants this year, versus 400 in the last CB),” shares Lim, “as more merchants were willing to embrace technology and understanding Oddle’s value proposition for them – helping them to pivot online, plus helping with the logistics and marketing service needs.
Oddle sees itself as complementary to the other food delivery platforms available which, according to Lim, focus more on on-demand convenience, with restaurants and grocers near to the customer. On the other hand, Oddle makes the merchant available to customers island wide.
This aspect was attractive to YUN NANS: Chua notes that at the time, “Oddle was the only delivery service that provided island-wide delivery for orders then, and this helped to bring YUN NANS to a bigger pool of diners.”
This has ultimately helped YUN NANS survive the difficulties of the pandemic. Says Chua, “Since the pandemic, due to all the dine-in restrictions, our business has slowed down, similar to most of our peers in the market, but the service provided by Oddle helped to increase sales via delivery.
“Previously we were only able to reach out to a pool of diners that stayed within the vicinity of the restaurant, but being onboard Oddle helped us to reach out to more people through their island-wide delivery services.”
Keeping you fed in unpredictable times
While there seemed to be a return to normalcy in sight at the beginning of 2021, the return to Phase 2 Heightened Alert (P2HA) has put a damper on Singaporean’s expectations. This has added challenges to the F&B sector. Shares Chua, “Compared to the Circuit Breaker previously, there is more intense competition during Phase 2 Heightened Alert as there are more online delivery options in the market now.”
“More people have also opted for delivery instead of takeaway, which resulted in higher operating cost due to delivery charges paid to 3rd party courier company.”
Echoing his observations on customer’s cautiousness, Lim notes that “in last year’s Circuit Breaker, once dine-out was allowed, many people were rushing to dine out.
“However, with this year’s re-opening, we saw that people are more careful to head out even with high vaccination rates.
“Our sales numbers seem pretty consistent on weekdays and weekends – which means that people are choosing to go out when there is lesser crowd,” he adds.
In this environment where more merchants are competing with increasingly cautious diners, having customer data can allow establishments to focus and improve their core operations, giving them the edge needed for survival. Chua notes its importance, saying that he hopes to implement ways to analyse their consumer data and have a better understanding of their behaviour in order to offer them the best service and food choices.
The data gathered by digital platforms such as Oddle can help here. Lim shares that Oddle shares full transparency of the customer data obtained with its merchants. “We act as an an F&B consultant for them to share insights on Uploading their customer list to FB & Google Customer List so that we can target their customer list better with relevant ads & promotions,” he says.
They also share with them how they can engage customers or lapsed users better through EDM and advertising.
Dining in the new normal
Looking at trends in Singapore and other countries like Israel that are aiming to treat COVID as endemic, says Lim, in the near future “it is highly likely that we will keep oscillating between heightened alert, dine-in opening-up regularly. This will become the new normal.”
Ultimately, says Lim, this suggests that the trend for food delivery is here to stay. Besides consumers becoming used to the convenience of food delivery, consumers may also have family members unable to be vaccinated, resulting in resulting in them preferring to stay safe and dine at home together.
“In order to survive in the competitive F&B industry, one certainly must pivot and embrace technology,” he concludes.
Certainly this is true of their customers as well, hoping to regain a taste of the world at their doorstep.